You work hard to eat a healthy diet. So why shouldn’t your pet have the same opportunity? Dr. Jonathan Stockman, D.V.M., D.A.C.V.N., a veterinary nutritionist at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, offers advice on choosing the most nutritious food for your furry family member.
Dogs and cats have higher protein requirements than people, but feeding your pet 100 percent meat is not a balanced diet, says Stockman. “The issue is that a number of nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D and zinc are not available in meat in sufficient amounts, so it’s important to supplement with other nutrients.” The best option, Stockman recommends, is to review your pet’s diet with a veterinary nutritionist via your veterinarian. A nutritionist can also offer insight into preparing the most nutritious home-cooked pet food.
What about a grain-free diet? “I think grain-free can be helpful for dogs and cats with specific dietary sensitivities, but it’s not something that all cats and dogs necessarily need to be on. Grains provide fiber, carbohydrates and protein, and are good sources of energy,” says Stockman.
There’s also the raw-food trend. “While there are potential benefits of food that is less processed, these have not been proven in pets, and there is higher risk of raw food being contaminated,” says Stockman. “So in general, I recommend to avoid it.”
According to Stockman, there are approximately 40 essential nutrients that dogs and cats should consume; most need to come from diet, including vitamin D. “We can form vitamin D in our skin when we go outside, but dogs and cats don’t have that ability,” says Stockman, noting that vitamin D in dogs and cats is important for bone health; plus, it may have anticancer and anti-inflammation properties. On the other hand, over-supplementation of vitamin D can be dangerous and should be avoided. Other important nutrients are zinc, which supports a healthy coat and skin, and choline for healthy metabolism. Stockman recommends speaking with your veterinarian or contacting a boarded veterinary nutritionist regarding safe supplementing.
When shopping for pet food, Stockman suggests looking for brands with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement, which means the product meets AAFCO nutrient guidelines that are updated each year. “It also might be beneficial for pet owners to contact the pet food company and ask for additional information, such as who formulated the recipe and what kind of quality-control tests are done,” he says. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association website (wsava.org) is also a good resource for pet owners, offering a tool kit on how to select the best food.
What pet doesn’t like a little something special? “For more balanced nutrition, I usually recommend 10 percent of daily calories from treats,” says Stockman. He recommends packaged treats that provide a specific benefit, such as oral health, and to avoid bulk options. “Often those bulk treats have not undergone proper cooking or sterilization, and are not stored well,” he says. But Stockman says that fruits and vegetables make great treats for dogs and some cats, too. “You’d be surprised, but some cats actually like zucchini!” he says. And of course, it is important to avoid treats that may be toxic to dogs and cats, such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, garlic, onion, xylitol-containing foods and macadamia nuts.
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